Wednesday, May 31, 2023

How Business Travel Spurs Innovation

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Dany Bahar, Prithwiraj Choudhury, Do Yoon Kim and Wesley W. Koo have written a new working paper titled, "Innovation on Wings: Nonstop Flights and Firm Innovation in the Global Context."  The scholars collected data from over 5,000 airports around the world over a ten-year period (2005-2015).  They married flight data with other datasets that provided information about company patents.  The scholars found that, "a 10 percent increase in nonstop flights between two locations led to a 1.4 percent increase in new patents between firms in those places."   Choudhury explains the finding in a comment for a HBS Working Knowledge feature about the research: 

"We’re showing that business travel matters for innovation, but it only matters if two firms’ locations are either culturally or temporally far away from each other,” he says—that is, if the two firms possess different cultural norms or don’t have overlapping business hours, defined as 1.5 hours or less.

For instance, colleagues who speak different languages and possess unique cultural norms around meeting styles would benefit from in-person meetings, whereas people who speak the same language and operate meetings similarly won’t realize the same benefit.

Choudhury hopes business leaders consider the research when refining post-pandemic work policies. Because of the vast sample size of flights used in this paper, he believes the findings are generalizable for all business leaders.

The paper appears to be a strong endorsement for face-to-face interaction as a catalyst for innovation under certain circumstances.   One caveat - the study focused on data from the pre-pandemic period.  Companies clearly have adopted a range of improved communication technologies since 2020, and managers have become more adept at using these technologies.   Does face-to-face interaction matter as much today as it did during the 2005-2015 period?  Future research will help us answer that question.  For now, the study at least requires us to question whether we can achieve desired innovation results simply by relying on remote communication and collaboration. 

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Delivering Negative Feedback

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In a recent article for Kellogg Insight, Professor Brooke Vuckovic offered some great tips on how to deliver negative feedback effectively.   Among the bits of advice, Vuckovic recommended trying to anticipate the types of new information that might emerge and challenge one's beliefs about the drivers of poor performance: "To prepare for this possibility, she suggests asking yourself a few prompts: What’s your story of the problem—and what story might this other person tell about the same problem?"  She advocates preparing for the possibility that you might not have a complete and accurate understanding of the situation.  You might ask yourself:  Under what circumstances might I change my mind about this employee's status?  Finally, Vuckovic argues that you also have to consider whether you did not articulate goals and expectations clearly.  What role did you perhaps play by not communicating clearly?

In the end, the employee may not be performing well, and you must deliver some feedback that might be difficult to hear.  Still, Vuckovic argues that you want to make sure to solicit the employee's perspective, listen actively, and play back what you have heard to insure you have understood clearly.   Finally, and most importantly, prepare an exit strategy for the conversation.  If things aren't going well, have a plan for how to bring the conversation to a close, perhaps with an invitation for further discussion once cooler heads have prevailed.  

Thursday, May 11, 2023

What Causes Us to Regret Key Decisions?

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Do you find yourself often regretting the path not taken? What's causing those feelings?  Is it affecting your job satisfaction, or your commitment to a key plan of action at work?  Scholars Daniel Feiler and Johannes Müller-Trede have published a fascinating study about regret in the context of decision making.  Prior research had shown that "decision-makers both anticipate and experience greater regret when they can observe the consequences of unchosen options."   However, these two scholars found something slightly different in their study.  They discovered that, "Participants in our studies were more likely to experience regret when they did not observe the outcome of the forgone alternative than when it was revealed."  How could that be?  

Feiler and Müller-Trede discovered that the explanation as to do with our beliefs.  What do we believe is the value of a foregone alternative vs. what is the actual value of that option we dismissed?  They found that, "When there are many alternatives to choose from under uncertainty, the perceived attractiveness of the almost-chosen alternative tends to exceed its reality."  In short, we exhibit over-inflated beliefs about options we rejected.  This misguided beliefs cause feelings of regret.  

Monday, May 01, 2023

What All of Us Can Learn About Decision Making From Baseball's New Pitch Clock

Source:  Sports Illustrated

If you are a major league baseball fan, you probably are enjoying the new pitch clock implemented this year.  Over the past few decades, games have become longer and longer, typically exceeding 3 hours.  In the playoffs, many games have exceeded 4 hours.  The increasing length of games and the slow pace were turning away many fans, particularly younger ones.   Interestingly, a scholar of decision making under pressure has suggested that all of us can learn a bit from the addition of the pitch clock in baseball.  Dartmouth College President-Elect Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist, has argued that we might actually see better performance with the new time constraints for pitchers.  She extends that argument to many decision makers in an array of fields, arguing that situations without time bounds can actually increase decision fatigue and burnout, while yielding inferior choices.  We can spend so much time pondering and re-hashing our options that we become cognitively overwhelmed.  Here's an excerpt from a piece she wrote recently for Fast Company

My own research shows that we actually perform better under tight time constraints—especially when we’re doing something we’re good at. The performance of elite athletes is largely controlled by procedural memory and repetition rather than conscious thinking...  Too much time causes us to focus excessively on the minutiae of our performance, which can disrupt what we are doing. San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler had it right when he said that the greatest advantage of the pitch clock will be “taking all the thoughts out of your head.”

Parkinson’s law suggests that when people are given extra time to complete a task, we’ll generally take advantage of that time, even if we don’t really need it. In other words, we don’t lose out by trimming down deliberation time. All we gain is extra time for our thoughts to percolate—and disrupt our performance... In a world where we are all facing 35,000 daily decisions, it’s worth taking stock of how too much thinking time might be causing more harm than help. The “paradox of choice” tells us that having too many options actually makes us less happy—an experience anyone who’s spent a night scrolling through hundreds of Netflix titles only to declare “there’s nothing to watch” knows well. In many ways, the absence of a pitch clock in our own lives could be viewed as the culprit for decision fatigue and burnout, which over half of Americans are struggling with today.

Naturally, we have to consider the context.  The performance of an athlete performing the same task that they have performed millions of times since childhood is far different than a distinctive strategic decision that a CEO is facing and perhaps has never encountered previously.  Still, we should think carefully about what happens when we delay decisions repeatedly in hopes of benefiting from further deliberation and analysis.  There is a delicate cost/benefit calculus at play.  The benefits of delay don't always exceed the costs, and those costs are not only associated with the danger of falling behind more nimble competitors in the marketplace.